Knowing how to stop panic attacks might come handy earlier than you think, and might have been useful in circumstances you didn’t realize. Have you ever experienced feeling a sudden rush of overpowering fear and anxiety? Was there ever a time when you felt that you could not breathe because of the overwhelming negative feeling? If yes, then you may not know it, but you have already experienced having an anxiety attack, also known as a panic attack.
When you have a panic attack, you can feel different kinds of emotions, which are generally unpleasant. Sometimes, your heart may pound so fast which can make you think and feel like you are already going crazy or worse, dying. Needless to say, anxiety and panic attacks are a big deal, so it is important to deal with these things immediately and know the cure for anxiety and the appropriate treatment for panic attacks.
But, before talking about how to stop panic attacks, it is crucial to know more about what they are in order to understand what you are dealing with.
What is a Panic Attack and Its Symptoms?
A panic attack can be described as a sudden and intense wave of uneasiness, distress, or fear, which can reach its peak just within minutes after its onset. It is often characterized by its abruptness as well as its intensity, which can be draining and devastating.
It can occur without any warning and can happen anytime and anywhere, which makes it even more frightening. There are even instances when a panic attack can happen while you are in a calm or relaxed state and even when you are sleeping. And when it happens, you will often feel terrified even though there is really nothing to be scared of and you are not in any dangerous situation.
Some people experience having a panic attack only once, but there are also some who experience several episodes of the terrifying experience. Usually, recurring attacks are triggered by an experience or a specific situation like public speaking or crossing a hanging bridge. In these cases, it will definitely help if you know how to handle a panic attack.
If you have been having recurring panic attacks, then it is most likely caused by a situation wherein you feel that you are compromised or threatened. It can also be caused by the feeling that you are unable to escape that specific situation.
In the United States, one among 10 adults experiences having panic attacks each year. But, the numbers also show that only about 3% of adults in the US develop panic disorder and while they can also occur among men, they are most common among women.
A panic disorder is more serious in the sense that the attacks become more problematic and that they can already affect your normal daily routine and lifestyle.
When you have panic attacks, you are likely to experience at least four of these signs and symptoms:
- Accelerated heart rate, fast heartbeat, or palpitations
- Shaking or trembling
- Shortness of breath or the feeling of being suffocated
- Feelings of gagging or choking
- Discomfort or pains in the chest area
- Feelings of nausea, stomach pains, or abdominal upset
- Dizziness or feelings of unsteadiness and lightheadedness
- Hot flashes or chills
- Turning pale
- Tingling sensations or numbness, also known as Paresthesia
- Feelings of being detached or depersonalization as well as feelings of unreality or derealisation
- Fear of going crazy or losing control
- Fear of dying
As mentioned, the symptoms of a panic attacks can develop all of a sudden no matter where you are.
The symptoms usually reach their highest level of intensity within 10 minutes or even less before they start to subside.
A panic attack may end within 20 minutes to half an hour and they rarely last longer than that.
How to Treat Panic Attacks
Fortunately, anxiety or panic attacks can be treated. If you want to know the most appropriate treatment for anxiety or know how to treat panic attacks, it is best to consult a doctor who can set you up with either a medication, a psychological therapy, or both if needed.
Keep in mind though that stopping panic attacks is not something that can be accomplished overnight. You and your doctor will need a lot of time to work on the treatment, so you need to be patient. You also have to follow through and work with your doctor on your agreed treatment plan, so that you can find relief in the long run.
Physical Assessment and Diagnosis
The first step that your doctor may take is to give you a comprehensive physical assessment. This is recommended in order to check whether the symptoms of anxiety and panic are not caused by a disease that you are not aware of. If you look at the symptoms, most of them such as discomforts or palpitations can also resemble other serious illnesses like heart diseases, so it is better to be safe and sure before undergoing any further treatment.
If after being assessed, your doctor finds out that you do not have any related medical condition or disease, you may be referred to other specialists such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. They are the best option as they are professionally trained to help you in coping with panic attacks.
One of the most common ways on how to stop panic attacks is counseling through the use of what specialists call “talk therapy”. In this kind of therapy, you will have a sit down session with a therapist or counselor who can help you better understand your situation. Through counseling sessions, you can have a better understanding of anxiety, panic attack, what to do when it happens, and how you can deal with it.
As you undergo treatment through counseling sessions, your counselor will be able to help you recognize specific situations, emotions and/or thoughts that usually cause you to have panic attacks. Counseling can help you talk about it more and as you better understand what is happening, you can manage the triggers better and be more familiar with knowing how to prevent panic attacks.
Another benefit of counseling is that it can make you realize that the physical effects of panic attacks such as those mentioned earlier in the signs and symptoms do not really hurt you. Your counselor can gradually help you in working through the things that you experience during a panic attack and make you feel less scared and anxious. Then eventually, the dreaded attacks will go away.
During your counseling, you can also learn some techniques to relax better and help you to handle attacks in case they happen again. For instance, knowing how to control your breathing can help make a panic attack less serious and make you feel less terrible. Aside from that, controlled breathing can also lessen the chances of having another panic attack in the future.
During your assessment and depending on the diagnosis, your doctor may also recommend that you take some medication as a part of your therapy. Medication may be included in the first part of your treatment with the goal of lessening the physical symptoms that you usually feel during panic attacks.
Doctors may prescribe different medications, but the most common may include a prescription of the best antidepressant for anxiety in order to help you avoid having panic attacks in the future.
One of the most recommended and often the first choice of medication in the treatment of panic attacks are SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These are antidepressants which are generally safe because they are known to have a very low risk of severe or threatening side effects. Another good thing about SSRIs is that there are several brands that are approved by the FDA in treating panic attacks such as Prozac, Zoloft, Pexeva, and Paxil.
Another class of antidepressants is SNRIs or Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors. The FDA has also approved an SNRI drug which is called venlafaxine hydrochloride, which is meant to be used in treating anxiety and panic disorders.
You may also be given a prescription drug to combat anxiety, such as benzodiazepine, which is a type of medication that is also known as tranquilizers. If you are not familiar with the name, then maybe Valium and Xanax sound more familiar. This type of medication is usually prescribed to help with muscle relaxation as well as sedation.
However, because of its effects, some people use it for substance abuse. So, if you have a history of substance abuse disorder, your doctor may prescribe another medication for you in replacement of benzodiazepine.
If you have an irregular heartbeat or palpitations, your doctor may give you medicines to even out your heartbeat. Also, you need to be ready and to keep an open mind because while doctors are considered the specialists in their field, they may also have to prescribe more than one kind of medication before the both of you determine what works best for you and what does not.
It may also take several weeks before you start noticing any improvement or changes in your symptoms, so you just have to be patient and keep an open communication with your doctor. Also, keep in mind that social anxiety treatment can only be effective if you do your part as well.
How to Stop Panic Attacks
As you may already know, a panic attack can strike anytime, no matter where you are. But given that you are more aware of what is happening to you now and you are provided with more information on how to deal with anxiety, you are in a better position to manage and control an attack when it happens.
To help you successfully fight and control a panic attack, here are some tips that you may find useful. Keep them in mind to ensure that you will win the battle next time and not let the negativity of a panic attack consume you.
- Recognize the different components that contribute to your panic attacks. These components include the emotional, psychological, and physiological factors that serve as the anatomy of the attacks. Recognizing and understanding them definitely helps because when these components are no longer a mystery to you, they also lose the potential to make you feel scared and intimidated.
When you are no longer scared, there is a greater chance that you will be able to stop and control the panic attacks in just a short time. Understanding the different components involves knowing what the causes are, how you respond to the triggers, the changes that occur in your emotional and physical state, as well as how you react to stress and its effect to your body.
- Always try to keep calm. Just by doing this, you are shutting off the mechanism that initiates panic attacks and you are ending the stress response. When you calm yourself down, it will only take some time for your body to use up and dismiss the stress hormones that remain in your body.
Keep in mind as well that the calmer you are, the sooner the attack will end and the faster you will feel great again.
- Take relaxed deep breaths and practice diaphragmatic breathing. One of the symptoms of a panic attack is hyperventilation, which can usually make you feel more scared. While hyperventilation itself is not that serious, it can magnify your stress and make everything feel more dramatic. It may include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, palpitations, as well as feelings of giddiness and weakness.
If you take deep breaths, it can help reduce the feeling of panic during another attack. Being able to control your breathing can do a lot for you as it can make the other symptoms and the actual panic attack disappear.
In addition, when you want to stop panic attacks you need to practice breathing slowly from your diaphragm or doing a calming diaphragmatic breathing because it can provide your body with a natural tranquilizing effect. It can neutralize the influence of the stress response and calm your body down, prompting the end of the panic attack.
- Allow yourself to be distracted. Most of the time, panic attacks are triggered and fueled by uneasiness and thinking restlessly. To prevent this, you can distract your attention from the anxiety that is slowly taking over you.
You can try to distract yourself in various ways. You can try to call someone on the phone, organize your things, read a book, play some music, or just fiddle with anything that you can lay your hands on. You can even try focusing on just one object and divert all your attention to it while you are having a panic attack.
For instance, if one of the panic attacks happens while you are in your car, you may want to focus your attention on your dashboard. Notice the color and the texture, as well as the other details that you usually ignore. Try to describe other things that you can find on the dashboard and try concentrating all the energy that you have on it. You will notice that after a few minutes, your panic attack symptoms may also subside.
- Relax your body and practice techniques on muscle relaxation. If you try to relax your body, you are also trying to shut off the stress response because it cannot be both stirred and relaxed at the same time. So, the more that you relax, the faster you also use up and drive out the stress hormones from your system. When you successfully accomplish that, the feelings of an active stress response will be brought to an end.
Techniques of muscle relaxation are similar to deep breathing. They are important to learn because they can help stop a panic attack just by controlling the response of your body as much as possible.
The good thing about doing this is that you do not need to do an extensive routine to apply muscle relaxation techniques. You can start by doing something simple like relaxing your fingers, hands, and then slowly move towards the other parts of your body. Just relax one muscle at a time and make it even more effective by practicing the techniques beforehand.
- Think of your happy place. Surely, there is one place that you would want to be whenever you feel stressed or anxious. What is that one place where you feel that you will be at your most relaxed state? Is it high up in the mountains or in a beautiful and sunny beach, with the waves touching the tips of your toes as you walk along the shore?
Identify your happy place so that once you get another panic attack, you can picture yourself there. Focus on the details of the place and imagine yourself having a relaxing and wonderful time just doing what you love to do in a place where you find yourself the happiest.
- Be aware and recognize that panic attacks end, no matter how bad or how powerful they seem to be. It is only a matter of time before you take control again and end the attack. Recognition may not immediately stop panic attacks, but riding it out can help you feel calmer by shutting off the stress response.